Reflecting on the work towards SDG 6 – World Water Day

March 21, 2018 | Mobile for Development Utilities | Global | Alexander Roche

Image provided courtesy of WonderKid

World Water Day is upon us once again and poses as a poignant time to reflect on our programme’s effort to alleviate issues around water, specifically in tackling SDG 6: Clean, Water and Sanitation. Recently I took on an exercise in updating our ‘addressable market’ figures. In this post, I will outline a little bit about the findings from the aforementioned research and about some of our upcoming research on the water space over the next nine months.

Addressable market for water

What is the mobile addressable market?

We know that mobile technology is the single most ubiquitous technology across the developing markets and therefore is in some settings best placed to tackle SDG 6. Using the data from the World Bank, GSMA intelligence and the UN, we have calculated the number of people that are covered by a mobile signal (at least 2G) but lack access to improved water (piped household water connection located inside the user’s dwelling, plot or yard) in developing markets. This gives us an indicator of the population who can be ‘addressed through mobile services’ to help them access clean water.

In the figure above, we can see that what we devised as addressable market currently sits at over 373 million, which is a stark increase from the initial calculation of 290 million back in 2016. This is because mobile coverage is expanding faster than access to water is being addressed. This an important figure as it sizes the market opportunity, which mobile technology is in some ways uniquely placed to address.

But, the actual addressable market is much bigger

With reference to the figure above and the 848 million highlighted as the ‘total gap’, this only reflects those without access and does not begin to address the larger picture. The proximity of the water points and quality of water is not properly accounted for in the ‘improved water’ definition. To address this, the new WASH monitoring framework by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation introduced the term, ‘safely managed water services’[1], which requires that the household’s drinking water source is on premises, available when needed, and free of faecal and locally relevant chemical contaminants. While the data available by the new definition is limited for now, once more fully available this will further broaden the mobile addressable market for water access.

Moreover, beyond the debate of what is ‘access to clean water’, there is a much bigger section of people who have access but struggle with hugely unreliable supplies of water and affordability issues. Interestingly, lately a number of the business models in mobile enabled water access have actually set out to alleviate the reliability of existing water supplies or in supply chains, not just those who do not have access to a potable water source. Through machine-to-machine and mobile money technologies, mobile services are already being used for manual/remote water point monitoring, bill payments and pre-paid water access at communal and household level.

Showcasing two of our water grantees

Our Innovation Fund grantee, City Taps (which delivers piped water into the home through their smart metering technology), has some interesting achievements as showcased in one of our blogs earlier this year. When surveyed, their customers reported improved affordability, “A price comparison showed that piped water from SEEN was up to 16 times cheaper than purchasing from a water delivery service – the primary water source for 92 per cent of households not previously connected”. Female customers also reported spending less time collecting water with their service, as stated by UNICEF, “The 200 million hours women and girls spend every day collecting water is a colossal waste of their valuable time” – any way to alleviating the burden women are disproportionately affected by.

Another grantee, WonderKid, highlighted here in a case study, has deployed an Integrated Mobile Utility Management (IMUM) software system across 13 different utilities. Their main aim being to increase the efficiency centralised utilities delivering to the underserved. Specifically speaking, in their efforts in Kenya, where 30 per cent of the 84 utilities in Kenya reporting 50 per cent non-revenue water (NRW). NRW is a huge issue for centralised utilities across the developing world and not represented in the figures above.

Upcoming research

Our upcoming report on the sector, ‘Key trends in mobile enabled water services – What’s working and what’s next’, will discuss the business models using mobile phones in water service delivery highlighting the challenges and opportunities in the sector. Also, over the following nine months, we will be focusing around the PAYG water space and will be showcasing our research in blog form, publications and events. Where we will be looking at how digitising payments of water, through mobile channels, helps improve the adoption of mobile wallets, as well as increased usage of mobile services. We will be looking across centralised and de-centralised utilities, exploring how innovation and digitisation across the sector is best placed to tackle these issues. Stay tuned!


This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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